Where does it all begin? Is there a moment that marks a abolitionist about-face in appearance and accent in postwar drama? The textbooks acquaint us that the London premieres of Waiting for Godot (1955) and Look Aback in Anger (1956) are cardinal landmarks. I would argue, however, that John Whiting’s Saint’s Day (1951) erected a absolute signpost to the future. Critically besmirched in its day and rarely apparent since, it contains capacity and account that were to become staples of avant-garde drama.
The play’s history is extraordinary. It won a new comedy competition, organised by Alec Clunes at London’s celebrated Arts theatre, to bless the Festival of Britain. Staged at the Arts in September 1951, it was greeted with the howls of abhorrence that theatre critics commonly assets for annihilation absolutely innovative. “Of a badness that charge be alleged indescribable,” thundered the Times. That aforementioned cardboard appear a letter from arch affected lights – including Peter Brook, Tyrone Guthrie, Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud – that foolishly dedicated the play. But the accident was done and although Whiting went on to address added plays, including Marching Song and The Devils, he never acquired a defended ballast in British theatre.
What so got up people’s noses about Saint’s Day? It absolutely takes us into strange, artistic territory. Set in a battered rural abode area a abusive 83-year-old poet, Paul Southman, lives with his granddaughter and her artisan husband, it shows the alfresco apple advancing on their seclusion. Southman is due to be taken, by a dandified admirer, Robert Procathren, to London area the old man will be honoured at a banquet adulatory his adaptation with the arcane establishment. But Procathren’s accession coincides with a break-out from a apprehension centre by three soldiers who activate terrorising the village, with whose citizenry Southman himself is at war. What follows is an access of abandon in which Southman and Procathren fatally acquisition themselves on opposing sides.
No one would affirmation Saint’s Day is easy. Abundant as I adulation it, I accept that the final act verges on incoherence. But what is amazing is how abundant Whiting anticipates the ball that is to come. The abstraction of the artisan affected to accost association foreshadows Pinter’s The Birthday Party (1958), the chaos unleashed by aggressive deserters is developed in Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (1958) and the angle of the abandon ambuscade below society’s apparent permeates endless plays from Bond’s Saved (1965) to Kane’s Blasted (1995). Whiting’s play, which shows the apparent access of Euripides and TS Eliot, looks aback as able-bodied as forwards. But it was a absolutely beat game-changer that adumbrated the administration avant-garde ball was to take.
Gallery: #BazaarBookClub: 10 avant-garde adulation belief to apprehend now (Harper’s Bazaar (UK))
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